The Philadelphia Orchestra in flawless, high-uality audio
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

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June 3, 2007

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt

   I've been buying recordings of the Philadelphia Orchestra in FLAC format, in uncompromised audio, with a quality at least as high as CD audio recordings, and I was reminded today about these rare treats by the release of new Shostakovich performances.
   The orchestra's recordings are free from digital rights management (DRM) and are available as MP3s, also. FLAC versions cost a few dollars more than MP3s. (Beethoven's 9th Symphony, for example, costs $9.99 as an MP3 and $11.99 as a FLAC.)
   FLAC ("Free Lossless Audio Codec" -- "codec" means "code/decode" or, better, "encode/decode") is a way to squeeze a digital sound recording to a more manageable size, to make downloading possible, using no-loss encoding. In other words, the sound quality is not affected in any way.
   MP3 compression, by contrast, actually removes parts of the sound in a way that causes permanent damage. If an MP3 file is carefully encoded, the loss is slight, but there is a loss nonetheless. Most MP3s are heavily compressed, with considerable sonic damage, and as a result sound rough and raw if you listen to the MP3 and then alternate it with the original recording, side by side.
   FLAC playback software is readily available for legacy operating systems such as Windows and for next-generation operating systems such as Linux and Mac OS X. The Philadelphia Orchestra site does a good job describing FLAC and FLAC playback software. My choice, when dealing with FLACs, is to convert them to WAV or AIFF files to store as backups -- both WAV and AIFF are no-loss methods of storage -- and then to make playback copies using Apple's lossless encoding, which is built into iTunes.
   This also appears as an entry in my newspaper blog. The main blog address is blog.syracuse.com/technofile/.